Countdown note: GoGamecocks’ Josh Kendall, David Cloninger and Dwayne McLemore each ranked the 10 players most important to South Carolina’s defense in 2014. We took their predictions, compiled a composite list and are revealing it one player a day through July 2. (This is not a ranking of the team’s best players -- it’s our rank of the players who are most vital to the team’s success.)
10. Gerald Dixon Jr.
There’s a battle brewing with South Carolina’s evolving defensive line, and Gerald Dixon Jr. could emerge as one of the most consistent factors in the middle.
The redshirt junior from Rock Hill played in 12 games last season, making one start. He was credited with 18 tackles, including 2.5 tackles for loss. He also played nose guard at times in the spring in the Gamecocks’ 3-4 package.
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In the regular 4-3 alignment, J.T. Surratt is a presumed starter at one tackle spot. So this summer, and preseason camp especially, will be huge for Dixon Jr., Phillip Dukes, Abu Lamin, Kelsey Griffin and Deon Green.
With Kelcy Quarles gone, defensive line coach Deke Adams doesn’t expect a drop-off in production in the middle.
“To be honest with you, I’m not sure if we’ll miss a beat inside,” Adams said. “That’s not taking anything from Kelcy, because he did an excellent job for us. We have some guys there that can play.”
Best-case scenario: Dixon starts at one tackle spot and is trusted to stay in most of the time. Either way, expect USC coaches to rotate personnel as often as the game plan dictates.
Stats: 27 tackles in 24 games. ... Three career starts.